The Female Factor

19th April 2017

Posted In: The Topic

Women are often portrayed in the media as avid shoppers, with a fascination for the latest fashion trends and footwear and a keen eye for a bargain. But how well do brands really know women and just how influential are female consumers?

Words: Ruth Doris

According to Bridget Brennan, CEO of the US-based consulting firm, Female Factor, and the author of Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers, women are the world’s most powerful consumers and the engine of the global consumer economy, driving between 70 to 80 percent of consumer purchasing decisions with their buying power and influence.

New York-based PR firm Ketchum has found that women now control $3.3 trillion in consumer spending in the United States. They are responsible for 80 percent of household buying, control more than 50 percent of the wealth and make 62 percent of all car purchases.

In Ireland, an Amarach/eumom study in 2013 found that women account for 58 percent of purchases and influence 85 percent of purchasing decisions.

So are brands successfully marketing to these powerful female consumers? The answer, according to the findings from two recent separate Irish studies, would appear to be “not always”.

A Consumer Insights Report from Empathy Research from April 2016 found that almost two-thirds (62 percent) of the 576 women surveyed agreed that some ads that claimed to be aimed at women were “patronising”. This figure rose to 69 percent among 18 to 24-year-olds.

One marketing campaign that could be described as patronising was the much-ridiculed BIC pens for Her in 2012. The product, which featured a comfort grip and came in ‘lady colours’ pink and purple, even inspired a sketch by US talk show host Ellen. Bridget Brennan, who is a contributing writer to, says that the pink signifier is a common mistake, where brands “simply create a pink version of a gender-neutral product and then position it as the women’s option.” “Pink is not a strategy unless you’re raising money for breast cancer research and causes. There is nothing wrong with the colour pink, but when pink or pink-ish products are trotted out specifically as the only adult women’s option for a consumer product, it sends out the message: ‘We haven’t put any thought into this at all.’ Ideally, pink should be one colour option among many.”

Another way that marketers get it wrong is “to stereotype women as one-dimensional beings in advertising campaigns,” Bridget [Brennan] says. Irish people would tend to agree with this statement. Research published by MediaCom Ireland and Irish media brand last month [March 2017] found that 68 percent of women and 62 percent of men agree that most advertising reinforces gender stereotypes. This figure rises to 84 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds who agree with the statement.

Vicky Shekleton, Planning and Insights Manager at MediaCom Ireland says that: “Advertising has a large impact on shaping cultural norms and we must be aware of perpetuating gender stereotypes in the work we create and curate.”

One campaign that got it very wrong when it came to gender stereotyping was the one for the Cosmo SEAT Mii, a car launched last year to coincide with lifestyle publication Cosmopolitan’s FashFest. The car’s stand-out features were described as “jewel-effect rims”, a handbag hook, and “eyeliner headlights” that are “emphasized in the same way as make-up emphasizes the eye”.

Responding to outrage on Twitter at the SEAT’s marketing message that the diminutive purple car was designed for “impromptu karaoke performances, last-minute wardrobe changes, dramatic gossip sessions and emergency lunch-hour kips”, the carmaker said that the car was aimed at a Cosmopolitan reader, rather than women as a whole. Oh, well that’s okay then.

Similarly, Honda’s Misfit model, a pink car with window tinting to combat wrinkles was another cringe worthy attempt by a car manufacturer to market to women.

However, there are many examples of brands getting it right; Dove’s Real Beauty and Always #LikeAGirl are two recent campaigns that were received positively and boosted the brands’ revenues significantly.

Dublin-based PR consultant, Rachel Dalton believes that in terms of brands that really get how to market to women, Marks and Spencer do a fantastic job. “Their advertising is hugely entertaining. It’s beautiful and rich and almost like a form of escapism.” Rachel says another example of a company getting it right was the “lovely, clever” ad for beauty brand No 7, which featured an older ballerina.

So some brands are getting it right. However, it is not as simple as ditching the pink signifiers and avoiding gender stereotypes. Rachel says it cannot be underestimated how “deep” brands have to go to curate a campaign that speaks to their target market.

In part two which will be published next week, we look at how women make purchasing decisions and how brands can do better.